How to Start Developing Your Leadership Skills in College

How to Start Developing Your Leadership Skills in College

Is your résumé looking sparse? Are you itching for more leadership experience? I’ve found that becoming involved on campus will not only boost your résumé, but it also allows you to network and grow as an individual. Of course, it can be scary to put yourself out there, but the result is so worth it. But don’t just take my word for it—keep reading to learn tips for developing leadership skills from the presidents of different organizations on campus. Getting started can be intimidating, but don’t worry, these pros have it all figured out. Whether you want to start a new club or rise to the top of an existing one, the advice from these student leaders will help.

Get Involved as Early as Possible

Joining organizations and attending meetings early on in your college career not only sets you up for a potential leadership position in the future, but allows you to connect with new friends along the way. Rose Rackers is the president of four different organizations at Missouri University of Science and Technology. How did she become so engaged on campus? She says, “I became very involved starting my freshman year. I believe going to meetings starting your freshman year is a great way to break out and get involved. Reach out to the current officers to learn what they do, how they got there, and work with them. It will show initiative and give you credibility when you want to become involved.”  Rose recommends joining committees within the club as a way to show your commitment. Learning about different organizations sooner rather than later also allows you to narrow down the ones you are most interested in becoming a leader of. From there, maintain active membership and network with other students.

Balance Leadership with Friendship

As a leader, it can sometimes be hard to assert yourself, especially if you have friends who are organization members. Mikayla Measey, president of the professional fraternity Alpha Delta Theta at the University of the Sciences, experienced this difficulty and has a few tips. She says, “I learned that managing a group of people is not an easy task and that sometimes you have to choose between being their fearless leader and being their friend. I tried to embody the quote, ‘it’s professional, not personal,’ when making difficult decisions. When it came down to it though, my friends supported me no matter what, and understood I was doing what I had to do.”

President of the professional business co-ed fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi, Yoanna Gueorguieev also finds this aspect of leadership to be difficult. She says, “As president, I have to make a lot of tough decisions. The majority of the time I have to stick with my gut and make the choice that I feel is right despite what others may think. This position is a balancing act, juggling my professional side with my personal side [and] my fun side with my boss-girl side.” Meshing all of your identities into one is tricky, but remember to always stay true to yourself.

Be Fearless and Take Risks

Don’t worry about feeling uneasy in a leadership role, because those moments spent outside of your comfort zone are where you really start developing leadership skills and experiencing growth. Reneishia Jimmerson is the president of the Fashion and Business Organization at the University of Houston. Her leadership advice is, “Go for it! Being a leader within an organization teaches you things about yourself you may not otherwise be aware of. You have to allow yourself to be in uncomfortable and challenging positions to grow.”

Andrea Ng, president of the women’s fraternity Alpha Omicron Pi at the University of Toronto, has similar words of wisdom. She says, “Take a leap of faith. Don’t be afraid to try things out and see what you’re good at (or not so good at). Apply for any positions that you’re interested in and make the best out of all of the opportunities you get.” If you are unsure about an executive board or committee leadership position, just try it out. Developing leadership skills can happen unexpectedly; you never know who you will meet and what you will learn through the process.

Express Passion for the Club’s Mission

If you have sights set on a leadership position, make sure your enthusiasm for the club is very clear. Regent of the professional engineering fraternity Theta Tau, Sophia Fisher explains how important it is to demonstrate this interest, “Students who want to run for positions during their academic career should definitely focus first on being a passionate, involved member of whatever organization they’re a part of.” Sophia also notes how crucial priorities are. She says, “If this goal stems from the desire for respect or a ‘title,’ your enthusiasm for the role and your ability to affect real change in your organization will be stunted. Instead, if you are a passionate general member first, your peers will recognize your love for the mission or the purpose of the club, and that drive will guide your time as a leader in the club (whether or not you receive a formal title).”

Another way to demonstrate excitement for an organization is to actually participate in events. This may sound obvious, but it is an action that says more than words. Rachel Marchese is the president of Hillel, a Jewish organization at Kent State University, and she recommends that students, “Not only get involved but stay involved and be present. Go to as many of the organization’s events you can. The more passionate you are about an organization the better chances you will have in getting a leadership position.” If you show up to events and meetings, current leaders will take note of your involvement, which is important for future leadership opportunities.

Instill Confidence in Yourself and Others

Don’t doubt yourself. This is Ritika Mehta’s number one piece of advice for future leaders. As the president of both Teter Hutton Honors Council Association and the Honors College student government at Indiana University, she is already incredibly involved on campus. Ritika says, “Be confident in your abilities and get out of your comfort zone. I never imagined being a president of a club my freshman year of college, but I decided to put myself out there and was able to gain tremendous skills and experiences. Believe in yourself and abilities!”

Caring about others also says a lot about your own character. Hayley Coughlin is the co-president of the Fordham Fashion Sustainability Practicum. One of the most valuable lessons she obtained from her leadership experience was to be supportive. Hayley says, “I have learned how to listen to my members in order to help them accomplish their goals. I consistently encouraged feedback regarding my leadership techniques from my practicum’s members so that I can help them do their jobs efficiently, and it paid off with all we were able to accomplish this semester.” Leaders would be nothing without their team, so surround yourself with supportive people and foster an environment for self-improvement and development.

Not sure which clubs to join? Check out these organizations that will help build your résumé and help you start developing leadership skills of your own.

Opening image by Isabelle Hahn.